At the annual Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC), Microsoft released the beta version of three of its flagship products — Vista, Office and Longhorn.

The products will first be tested by corporate customers, who are able to install the three platforms across hundreds of desktops and servers.

The beta version of Office 2007 is available now on Microsoft's website for consumers to download and test for themselves.

Vista, the first major platform release since Windows XP 5 years ago, promises improved security and protection, as well as better-integrated media support for images, movies and games. For example, the photo gallery displays RAW files, while Movie Maker HD imports files from a high-definition camera. Gamers take note: Vista also offers use of a universal controller that works between the PC and the Xbox360.

Vista's release has been delayed several times to allow for re-engineering. Originally slated for a 2005 release, January 2007 is the expected release date, although some analysts believe it could take another 12 months following this beta version.

Beta versions of Longhorn and Vista are expected to be available to consumers in the next few weeks.

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